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International Fleet Review – Tips for Photographing Naval Ships

The International Fleet Review is coming to Sydney! Here are some useful tips and equipment suggestions to get you out around the water’s edge (whether in Sydney or not), shooting great quality pictures.

Lens Hoods

If you find yourself shooting in the middle of the day, particularly around water, a lens hood is a must.  The lens hood is the accessory that looks like a cup or flower and that attaches to the end of your lens. It is designed to stop unwanted light from entering your lens at a narrow angle in order to avoid lens flare while improving lens performance.  A lens hood also has the added advantage of providing a small amount of protection around the front of your lens in the unfortunate circumstance of a drop. While it does not guarantee a complete lens save, having one present may minimise the damage and is certainly better than not having one at all.

Circular Polarisers

A polariser is another great idea, particularly in circumstances where there is a lot of glare.  The polariser’s job is to diminish any reflections from non-metallic surfaces like water, foliage and glass.  It has a varying degree of effectiveness, depending on the angle of the light reflecting off the object and where the sun is in the sky.  At times a polariser can almost completely eliminate glare off water or reflections on windows. 
Using a polariser in a sunny situation around water can deepen the colour of the water and almost eliminate the specula highlights from the surface, giving shots an improved colour clarity and vibrance.  A polariser will deepen the blue in the sky and make clouds appear more defined. 
Something to keep in mind is that the polariser filter can absorb almost half of the light passing through. Better quality polarisers absorb less light and have better coatings so it may be worth spending a bit extra for the better quality filters.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Another type of filter to consider is the graduated neutral density filter (ND).  A filter such the Cokin P Series sits in a filter holder, which then attaches to your lens and allows you to use two or three filters at a time. 
The ND filter is square or rectangular shape filter that is dark at one end and gradually changes to clear at the other.  Use this filter when an area of the image is bright, but the rest of the image is not.  A perfect example is a sunset with a very bright sky but a foreground that is too dark to capture any detail.  The ND filter should be positioned so that the dark part of the filter covered the sky (rendering it darker) but the clear part covered the foreground (having no effect).  The result would be a ‘flattening’ of the image allowing detail in the brightest area and the darkest area. 
This would be great to capture a few late afternoon or sunset shots of the ships in the harbour.


A monopod is a single leg that supports your camera and enables you to quickly change position when required and hold your camera steadily, allowing longer lenses to be used comfortably and at slower shutter speeds than handheld. 
The main advantage of using a monopod over a tripod is that they are smaller, lighter and faster to set up.  They're capable of supporting the weight of your gear easily with some models being able to hold in excess of 40kg.  When using a long focal length lens to photograph the ships, a monopod not only helps to hold your camera steady, but also reduces the risk of camera shake, allowing you to quickly change positions to capture the perfect shot.


There are two types of lenses that may be useful when shooting on the harbour:  A wide angle and a telephoto.
Wide Angle Lens
The wide angle lens an ideal lens to use to capture the overall scene with a majestic wide shot of the harbour showcasing the scale of the International Fleet Review. A wide angle lens can also be very useful in the small confines of boats when there is insufficient room to ‘fit it all in’ with a standard zoom lens.  The focal length to aim for when using a full frame sensor would be in the 14 to 17mm range and around 10mm for a crop sensor DSLR.
Telephoto Lens
The telephoto lens is excellent when you’re trying to get close-up images of the ships from shore.  When using a telephoto lens keep in mind that you need to ensure your shutter speed is fast enough to eliminate blur caused by camera movement (see monopod).  The easiest way to do this is to use a higher ISO or a larger aperture lens.  Image stabilisation is also helpful with many telephoto lenses sporting this feature (it’s known as Image Stabilization for Canon and Vibration Reduction for Nikon).  Telephoto lenses are also great for singling out certain details while on-board one of the ships. E.g. A knotted rope or flag. Longer lenses around the 50 to 100mm focal length are also great for portraits.
These are just a few things to keep in mind when shooting events situated around water. Additional things to consider would be to ensure you are equipped with sufficient memory cards, compatible spare batteries, and some cleaning equipment such as the popular Spudz cleaning cloth at very least. 
Apart from that, keep your eyes open for any fleeting opportunities and keep shooting!


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